Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25, 1807 - British Parliament Abolishes Slave Trade

“William Wilberforce was a deeply religious English member of parliament and social reformer who was very influential in the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself in the British empire.

William Wilberforce was born on 24 August 1759 in Hull, the son of a wealthy merchant. He studied at Cambridge University where he began a lasting friendship with the future prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. In 1780, Wilberforce became member of parliament for Hull, later representing Yorkshire. His dissolute lifestyle changed completely when he became an evangelical Christian, and in 1790 joined a leading group known as the Clapham Sect. His Christian faith prompted him to become interested in social reform, particularly the improvement of factory conditions in Britain.

The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson had an enormous influence on Wilberforce. He and others were campaigning for an end to the trade in which British ships were carrying black slaves from Africa, in terrible conditions, to the West Indies as goods to be bought and sold. Wilberforce was persuaded to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade and for 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament. The campaign was supported by many members of the Clapham Sect and other abolitionists who raised public awareness of their cause with pamphlets, books, rallies and petitions. In 1807 [on March 25th], the slave trade was finally abolished…

Wilberforce's other efforts to 'renew society' included the organization of the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802. He worked with the reformer, Hannah More, in the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday. Its goal was to provide all children with regular education in reading, personal hygiene and religion. He was closely involved with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was also instrumental in encouraging Christian missionaries to go to India.

Wilberforce retired from politics in 1825 and died on 29 July 1833, shortly after the act to free slaves in the British empire passed through the House of Commons. He was buried near his friend Pitt in Westminster Abbey.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Education in the Republic

“Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress, July 13, 1787.

“[T]he common education of . . . our youth . . . well deserves attention. . . . and a primary object . . . should be the education of our youth in the science of government.  In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing . . . than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” George Washington, 8th Annual Message, December 7, 1796

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.” John Adams, “Defense of the Constitutions,” Vol. III, Chapter 3; Works: 6

“[The purpose of education in a republic is] to form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, ... and a sound spirit of legislation, which ... shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; … to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them precepts of virtue and order ...”  Thomas Jefferson, Report for the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818

“A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.

“[P]ublic education must prepare pupils for citizenship in the Republic. . . . It must inculcate the habits and manners of civility as values in themselves conducive to happiness and as indispensable to the practice of self-government in the community and the nation.” U. S. Supreme Court, Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986), quoting C. Beard & M. Beard, New Basic History of the United States 228 (1968).

“We also need to make sure that [students] understand their own country. Far too little is taught about America at Harvard. The Government Department has too few courses on America; little on the Supreme Court, for example, and less on American foreign policy. The History Department has no course on the American revolution or on the American founding. . . . Courses in American history and politics should be part of the recommended or required part of the curriculum.” Harvey C. Mansfield, “A More Demanding Curriculum,” 2004.

“[T]hat's what I think education, in the end, involves -challenging our children seriously to take a look, seek the truth and think it through for themselves. I therefore have to say that I can think of nothing that could be more powerful for the start of the educational day, indeed as a basis for our educational philosophy, than the notion that we wish to shape our young hearts and minds in the new generations in the light of those principles which have been the basis for our freedom…” Alan Keyes, The Declaration in Our Schools, May 15, 2000.

“I don't think the problem is the teachers …I think the problem with education in our country is us. We're not doing anywhere near enough as parents or grandparents to talk about history with our children, to talk about the books we've loved about historical subjects or figures. And taking our children or grandchildren to historic sights... we can't leave that for the schools because they don't do it much anymore. Reinstate the dinner table conversation.” David McCullough, Interview, New Haven, Connecticut, May 25, 2005.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Great Seal (1776)

On July 4, 1776 Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were appointed by the Continental Congress to design a seal for the new United States of America.  "Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America." – July 4, 1776, Journals of Continental Congress. For the design team, Congress chose three of the five men who were on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. The men consulted among themselves between July 4 and August 13, and then each brought before the committee a suggestion for the design of the Great Seal.

Benjamin Franklin's proposal is preserved in a note of his own handwriting: 

“Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”

“Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

Thomas Jefferson also suggested allegorical scenes. For the front of the seal: children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  For the reverse: Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.

Jefferson's edit of Franklin's suggestion read as follows:

“Pharaoh sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand, passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Command, beaming on Moses who stands on the shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh.”

Jefferson fully agreed with Franklin’s motto.

The same day Congress received the committee's report, it was "Ordered, To lie on the table."